OLIVIA - A project to provide broadband service to underserved areas in Renville County is on track for a June 2019 completion.

Work should be getting underway this week to install an underground, fiber-optic cable along a leg of the network near Sacred Heart, Ben Ranft, general manager of Renville Sibley Fiber/Hiawatha Broadband Communications, told the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

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RS Fiber/HBC is a cooperative that was formed to provide broadband service to Sibley County and rural portions of Renville County. Now in its third year, the cooperative serves 2,000 homes and businesses, most located in Sibley County, according to a report by Broadband Communities magazine.

The state's Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program awarded a $865,000 grant for the Renville County portion of the project. The grant calls for providing service to 193 underserved households, 99 underserved businesses and three community anchor institutions in portions of the townships of Preston Lake, Boon Lake, Brookfield, Osceola, Kingman, Winfield, Crooks, Erickson, Sacred Heart, Emmet, Flor, Henryville, Norfolk, Birch Cooley, Camp and Cairo.

The total project cost is estimated at $2 million or more, according to Ranft.

It will include running a fiber-optic line around the north, south and western perimeter of the county, as well as adding towers to provide wireless service. Initial work on the system in Renville County has involved servicing the Lake Allie and Lake Preston area northeast of Buffalo Lake.

The entire project in Renville County has 290 customers at this point, he said.

The cooperative has towers for the network in Bird Island, Hector and Buffalo Lake. it is working on installing towers by Franklin and Morton as well. Each can serve an approximate seven- to nine-mile radius. The towers can offer symmetrical, 25-megabyte service or 50/25-megabyte service where there is a strong line of sight between customer and tower, according to the general manager. Symmetrical service offers simultaneous download and upload speeds at 25 megabytes while 50/25 provides a faster download speed.

Ranft said the work remaining to be done as part of the grant includes burying the fiber-optic cable and installing "cabinets" at 25-mile intervals along the fiber to make it operational. The long-term goal is to run lines from those cabinet posts to Renville County communities along U.S. Highway 212, he said.

He told the commissioners that customer interest has been good in areas where service is being made available. County Board chairman Randy Kramer, who represents the eastern portion of the county, said he has been asked by residents there "when are we gonna get a chance'' to connect.